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Posted Dec. 12, 2008

Web Sage comments on the Zócalo forum, “Does America Need an Integration Policy?" Dec. 10, 2008, at the Skirball Cultural Center.


I. Assimilation

II. Integration

III. Civil religion

IV. Further reading

V. Commentary

VI. News Updates

Also see,

Civil religion and immigration

Religion, politics and culture

Also on Zócalo:

"What is the West’s Problem with Islam?"
Nov. 19, 2008

Reporting index


Walter Russell Mead on the refugee crisis

‘Americanization’ in the 21st century

Panel takes on immigration policy and philosophy

By Bruce T. Murray

Integration and assimilation are two-way streets: Immigrants integrate and assimilate into the host country, but the host country also changes and becomes a different place as a result of immigration.

USC demographer Dowell Myers made this point at the recent Zócalo forum, “Does America Need an Integration Policy?” Dec. 10, 2008, at the Skirball Cultural Center.

Rather than the old idea of “Anglo conformity” – in which immigrants are pressured to assimilate to the ways of the dominant culture – Myers envisions a scenario “where everyone is moving together”: Immigrants integrate, and the native-born adapt to them.

Myers ideal was far from the dominant one at the turn of the last century, when America was experiencing an unprecedented wave of immigration, mostly from eastern and southern Europe. At that time, “Americanization” was the name of the game.

“There can be no divided allegiance here,” said Theodore Roosevelt in 1919. “We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language, for we intend to see that the crucible turns our people out as Americans, of American nationality, and not as dwellers in a polyglot boarding-house; and we have room for but one soul loyalty, and that is loyalty to the American people.”

Clearly, ideas about immigration and assimilation have changed substantially in 100 years. But the Roosevelt version is still held by many Americans.

“What ever happened to motivation?” asked an elderly woman at the forum, complaining that immigrants aren’t sufficiently motivated to learn English.

"Press '1' for English. When is it going to be '1' for Spanish?" said another woman, in heated discussion with a small group following the forum.

Myers responded to the first woman that immigrants are, in fact, integrating and learning English; but the process takes place over time.

‘Patriotic integration’

Alfonso Aguilar, chief of the U.S. Office of Citizenship, spoke of the need for civic education for immigrants.

“Our identity as Americans is not our race or religion but our shared political principles,” he said. “We need to look to our founding documents to learn about our principles as a liberal democracy. We need a patriotic integration into our civic culture.”

Aguilar noted that civic awareness isn’t only for immigrants. Many Americans are sadly ignorant of the basic principles of the U.S. system of government. Late night talk show host Jay Leno exposes how humorously ignorant many Americans are in his “Jaywalking” segment.

“The federal government should provide massive civic education,” said panelist José Luis Gutiérrez of the Illinois Office of New Americans.

Aguilar disagreed with the idea of a centralized, federal integration policy. Integration is best carried out at the community level, he said. For example, churches are ideal places to teach immigrants English as a second language. The federal government assists church-based ESL programs through its Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives.

Civil religion and immigration

The new University of Massachusetts Press book, Religious Liberty in America: The First Amendment in Historical and Contemporary Perspective by Bruce T. Murray, takes on the issue of immigration in the context of civil religion – Americans’ sense of connection between themselves, the state, and a higher authority.

The customs and beliefs of new arrivals often conflict with those of the “natives.” Occasionally, the conflict becomes ugly and violent, such as the reaction to Catholic Irish immigrants in the 1840s. If not violence, the arrival of large numbers of newcomers – with different habits and languages – can result in simmering resentment.

Civil religion is a means by which immigrants and their American hosts can move together and share a common civic ideal. See more on civil religion and immigration here.

Religious Liberty in America also includes a chapter on faith-based initiatives and the history of partnerships between the government and religious organizations to deliver social services. These church-state collaborations have existed for decades, but the George W. Bush administration has significantly advanced such programs, prompting many to argue he has crossed the line separating church and state.

Further reading

Dealing with the trade-offs of immigration policy

Dowell Myers and other experts spoke at the National Symposium on Immigration. Analyzing the demographic trends, Myers said that as the baby boom generation retires, the younger generation of immigrant workers will be necessary to fund their retirement.

Examining the Economic Impacts of Immigration

UCSD economics professor Gordon Hanson said immigration creates winners and losers, gains and losses. Hanson said the best way to turn the net impact of immigration into a positive is to invest in the education of the children of immigrants. “It all comes down to what happens in subsequent generations. If you get the children of immigrants out of high school and with a year or two of college, you enter the realm where there might be net fiscal gains to the economy,” he said.

Immigration policy, politics and economics

Judy Gans, Director of the University of Arizona’s Immigration Program, discusses both the economic and societal implications of immigration. Gans noted that although the numbers of immigrants today is higher than ever in U.S. history, the immigrant population as a percentage of the overall U.S. population is actually lower now than it was at the turn of the last century.

‘Not Fit for Our Society’

“What is it about immigration that drives America crazy mad, makes us forget who we are? Peter Schrag takes up that question in Not Fit for Our Society, a thoughtful, especially timely look at the spasms of anti-immigration that have defined our nation from the very beginning. He writes: ‘The history of American attitudes about immigration and immigration policy has long been a spiral of ambivalence and inconsistency, a sort of double helix, with strands of welcome and rejection wound tightly around one another.’”


A third solution to illegal immigration

Rather than amnesty or deportation, Boston College professor Peter Skerry proposes legalization without citizenship.

Author of Arizona immigration law defends

Kris Kobach, a law professor at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, says the controversial the law actually discourages racial profiling and only kicks in when someone violates another law. Los Angeles Times, Dec. 16, 2012

Voting rights and immigration rights?

“Even when civil rights laws are used to challenge practices that are not racially discriminatory in their terms, application or intent but simply because they have disproportionate racial effects ... the practice may still be legally justified. So, for example, allowing only citizens to vote may have a disproportionate effect on groups that include many recent immigrants, but that is surely permissible.” — Sharon Browne and Roger Clegg, Los Angeles Times, June 13, 2010

A bipartisan blueprint for immigration reform

"Illegal immigration to the U.S. has fallen to its lowest levels since the mid-1970s. When the economy recovers, those numbers are likely to rise. But Congress and the administration have an opportunity now to develop and put in place an immigration strategy for the recovery by offering new legal paths for immigration and temporary work, along with tough enforcement of the law." — Jeb Bush, Thomas F. McLarty III and Edward Alden, Los Angeles Times, July 13, 2009

News updates

‘America's toughest sheriff’ under fire

The Justice Department accused Sheriff Joe Arpaio of engaging in “unconstitutional policing” by unfairly targeting Latinos for detention and arrest and retaliating against those who complain. The Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff’s Office, which Mr. Arpaio leads, had “a pervasive culture of discriminatory bias against Latinos,” according to the report.

Hispanics Reviving Faded Towns on the Plains
Arizona law aims to ban ethnic studies classes
California ballot initiative would end benefits for illegal immigrants

California's 2.7 million illegal residents account for $4 billion to $6 billion of the state's roughly $105-billion budget, according to this Los Angeles Times news story. Most of those costs are associated with schools, prisons and emergency healthcare. Most illegal residents contribute to the state through taxes and labor, but research indicates that the costs to state and local governments outweigh the additional tax revenue.